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Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Reading Challenges

My Kind of Mystery Reading Challenge 2017 February - January 2017-8




 

 


97 Ways to Make a Baby Laugh97 Ways to Make a Baby Laugh: 02/28/07

The best part of 97 Ways to Make a Baby Laugh is its introduction as it describes the joyful sound of a baby laughing and the lengths adults will go to cheer up a crying baby.

The book then goes on to outline 97 methods to make "Baby" laugh. Some of the suggestions are no brainers (like blowing bubbles through a straw into a beverage) and some might be cute if "Baby" is part of a large extended and nearby family. The bulk of them though are real handcraft that sound destructive, time consuming and to use marketing speak, have low ROI.

Unlike this fictional "Baby", infants aren't tyrants. They are actually easy to entertain assuming they aren't sick and have had their basics needs met (namely they are fed, dry, comfortable and well rested).

Here are some things that make Harriet laugh:

  • Sean saying "hello baby!" in a squeaky falsetto.
  • Anyone whistling a tune (or attempting to)
  • "Yes We Have No Bananas!"
  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider song
  • Caligula cat
  • Riding around in the sling
  • Making silly faces (especially when making rude noises to go with the faces)
  • Playing airplane
  • Dancing with me in front of the mirror (a variation of this is included in the book)

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Elk in OrickVacation: Part 10: Elk in Orick: 02/28/07

Over the Presidents' Day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

As promised, here is a post I forgot to make. While we were making our trip northward we stopped briefly in the Redwood National Park (or possibly Berry Glenn which is just north of Orick) to admire a herd of elk. Across the street from the viewing area we saw three bull elk sitting near a barn. When we saw the road sign pointing towards parking for elk viewing we had to pull over.

In the elk viewing field we saw a dozen or so elk cows sitting in the classic circle so that they could watch all the directions for potential problems. The elk were sitting probably a half a football field away from us. Thankfully the camera was able to get good pictures of them!

The trickiest bit of getting to see the elk was a giant puddle in the dirt road left from the night's rain. My little Civic doesn't have much ground clearance so going through the puddle was nervous making. Since we saw a number of cars on the other side of the puddle we ventured through but we were glad the puddle wasn't any larger or deeper.

While we were there, Sean wanted to take some photographs too. He loves using the camera. After asking him some questions to make sure he remembered how to use it safely I let him have the camera. He and I agreed that he could take five photographs which he promptly did. I've posted some of our photographs on my livejournal site and will eventually get them posted here as well.

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Harriet and her elephantStaring Contest: 02/28/07

As part of my "half birthday" celebration last night we went out to dinner. We chose Baker's Square and as it was Tuesday (kids eat free) the place was packed with families with children.

Harriet happily sat in a high chair and ate a jar of peas and made faces at her brother (who replied in turn with his own silly expressions). The rest of the time though she spent staring at another baby girl sitting at the table directly behind our booth. Harriet and this 13 month old were separated by only a foot or so of space. Both girls were fascinated with each other.

From the expression on Harriet's face it was clear that she didn't want to be held because she wanted to do what the older girl was doing. If the older baby was sitting and eating happily in a high chair, then so would she! It was so funny to see these two babies try to one-up each other.

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ThudThud: 02/27/07

At the February BookCrossing meeting, herebedragons gave Sean a bunch of her son's books. They are moving soon, first across the country and ultimately to Puerto Rico. To prepare for the move they are trying to lighten their load of books. Thud by Nick Butterworth is one of the books they gave us.

Thud relies on repetition and numerous cute animals to tell its story of cooperation, bravery and tolerance. Basil, the littlest animal of the forest goes on a quest to find out who the monster is and how he can be stopped. In the process he joins up with all the other animals of the forest, all of whom are afraid of the monster. Together though they feel brave enough to confront the monster.

Thud though isn't a simple monster story because the monster, while big and ugly for being so different is not mean and certainly not a monster after all. I won't spoil the ending though. Go read the book and find out!

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Vacation: Part 9: Books and Chowda: 02/27/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

To give ourselves time to explore things we had passed on our way northward, we set Gold Beach as our stopping point in Oregon. We would either find a restaurant or a grocery store to get lunch. We ended up finding something even better: Gold Beach Books and Café.

Sean, not interested in clam chowder opted for a bagel and muffin for lunch. It wasn't the healthiest of lunches but we were on vacation and since we don't normally allow him to eat like that we let have what he wanted. Harriet meanwhile had a jar of food.

After lunch we took a look around the store and used the money we saved on lunch to get some books. Sean got two books: Dinosaurs' Halloween and A Toad for Tuesday. Ian also got two: Coil and The Second Chronicle of Amber (both by Roger Zelazny). I didn't see anything that tickled so I held off from adding any books for myself to pile. Harriet also didn't get any books but she enjoyed looking at everything.

I just realized I've forgotten to write about our stop in the redwoods. Tomorrow I will write about what the elk we saw and the photographs that Sean took.

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FeetHalf Birthdays: 02/27/07

My childrens' birthdays bookend mine. Sean's birthday comes first, then mine and finally Harriet's. We're all a week apart (more or less). Sean is old enough now to care about half birthdays. They are as exciting and monumental as full birthdays.

Sean's enthusiasm for his half birthday has rubbed off on me. It's been years since I've felt glee over hitting my half birthday but this year I just couldn't resist. This morning Sean wished me a happy thirty-three and a half birthday and said next week would be Harriet's first half birthday. It's hard to believe she will be six months old next week!

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The HatThe Hat: 02/26/07

At the February BookCrossing meeting, herebedragons gave Sean a bunch of her son's books. They are moving soon, first across the country and ultimately to Puerto Rico. To prepare for the move they are trying to lighten their load of books. The Hat by Jan Brett is one of the books they gave us and it is adorable.

The Hat is a cute story about embarrassment, friendship and popularity. As with Bringing Down the Moon, the main characters are animals. In this one the protagonist is a hedgehog who wants nothing more than to get a stocking off his back before all his friends think he's stupid for wearing such a ridiculous "hat."

Meanwhile, all his friends, having seen his hat on such a cold winter's day see the wisdom of keeping warm and decide to pinch clothing from the woman's laundry line where she had hung her winter woolens to air out. One by one the woman loses her clothing set out to dry: the other stocking, a pair of gloves, a cap, a waistcoat, a sweater and a scarf.

I liked this book because it reminded me of Sean and his friends. Sean will take things he's learned at home and teach his friends and then everyone else is soon doing what he has been doing. Or he'll come home having learned something from his friends. This book captures how children creature their own culture at school perfectly.

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Vacation: Part 8: Hello Oregon: 02/26/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

After our long drive through the redwoods and our brief stop for batteries in Crescent City we made into Oregon. We thought about stopping for lunch in Brookings as it was past noon. We didn't see anything that looked good. There were a number of fast food joints but Sean doesn't like burgers and we wanted something more interesting anyway.

We did however need a bathroom break so we stopped at the rest stop near the turn off for the airport on the north side of Brookings.

One thing that has changed since my last trip to Oregon (June 1991) is that the rest stops now offer wireless access for a small fee (a few select government pages are free). If our trip had included more than a couple hours in Oregon we probably would have paid the fee to have roadside access to the internet. It would have been fun to blog from on the road.

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HarrietRain and Colds Day 2: 02/26/07

Sean is nearly over with his cold. He sometimes will have a runny nose attack but he's otherwise on the mend. Harriet meanwhile has been running a low grade fever on and off all day, is congested and sometimes coughing. She's therefore not sleeping well.

Sean's school is clearly the source of our kids' colds. Today when Ian took Sean to school only half the children showed up. The other half called in sick. Apparently on Friday was when the children first started acting coldy.

Outside it has been pouring all day. It had been sprinkling on and off since Saturday but this morning around two the heavens opened up and because of our location on the hillside it has been pouring. Most of the Bay Area has gotten around an inch of rain so far but we get help from orthographic effects and have gotten almost six inches of rain!

The weather combined with Harriet's cold have made me feel under the weather myself. I've had a sinus headache for most of the day and ended up sleeping a few hours upstairs on the couch until Ian and Harriet came upstairs at five for a bottle. Harriet returned at six so that Ian could sleep.

For most of today since six-thirty this morning Harriet has wanted to breast feed. She's dehydrated from the cold and the hot milk feels good against her throat. So I'm feeling like I've been turned inside out. She hasn't nursed this much since she was a new born.

I expect I'll be doing this for most of tonight as she woke up at nine (she usually sleeps through the night). Although she's back in bed I wouldn't be surprised if she wakes again.

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Bringing Down the MoonBringing Down the Moon: 02/25/07

At the February BookCrossing meeting, herebedragons gave Sean a bunch of her son's books. They are moving soon, first across the country and ultimately to Puerto Rico. To prepare for the move they are trying to lighten their load of books. Bringing Down the Moon is one of the books they gave us and it is adorable.

A little mole sees the moon in the sky and tries to get high enough to reach it. In his efforts to get the moon down he meets a number of other forest animals: a rabbit, a hedgehog, and a squirrel.

The story works through repetition of themes. The pay off comes with the mole first thinking he has reached the moon and then thinking he has broken the thing he so desired. By the end of the story the mole has expanded is horizons, learned about the moon and made new friends.

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Crescent City, CAVacation: Part 7: Crescent City: 02/25/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

Our last stop in California while heading north was at Crescent City to buy more baby food, ear plugs (I had forgotten mine at home) and camera batteries. The camera batteries died right after taking some shots from the scenic overlook of Crescent City from the 101.

Ian and Sean took most of the photographs at the Crescent City overlook while I had to take care of Harriet's needs (diaper change and lunch). Sean managed to get a lovely intimate photograph of Harriet when she and I finally were ready to see the sites at the outlook. In fact through out the trip Sean took some of the best photographs of Harriet and me. He has a good eye for photography, especially portraiture. I haven't had a chance et to post these photographs here but you can see some of them on my livejournal site.

Crescent City was one of the places I wanted to see because it is one of the few places on the California coast that has been hit by a tsunami. At the overlook there is a sign explaining about Crescent City's history with tsunamis. It was most recently hit in November after an earthquake in Japan.

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HarrietRain and Colds: 02/25/07

Harriet and Sean have come down with colds. As it was raining today and neither child felt up to doing much, we stayed home and watched videos. Sean spent the first half of his day asleep in bed. Sean's not as sick as Harriet but he's clearly fighting off this cold.

After breakfast he started to act really grouchy and he wasn't listening to me so I sent him to his room for a timeout. I normally only have to send him to his room when he's coming down with something or if he's overly tired. Today Sean was both and he needed the extra time in bed.

Now that it's 9:30 PM and Sean is in bed, I can hear Harriet babbling from her crib. I think this is going to be a long night for me.

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Quest for KimQuest for Kim: 02/24/07

Quest for Kim I received through the now defunct relay site. As I have enjoyed every Kipling book, story and poem that I've read but hadn't read Kim, I though this book would be good inspiration to get me reading Kim. Having finished Kim earlier this year I decided to read Peter Hopkirk's follow up to the book while the novel was still fresh in my head.

Hopkirk comes across through his written as the biggest fan of Kim ever. He gushes his enthusiasm and love of Kipling's novel throughout his chapters. Happily he includes illustrations of the places and items he is describing, helping to bring alive his account of his travels through Pakistan and India and his research at home in England.

My favorite chapter in both Kim and Quest for Kim is account of riding the Te-rain. In Kim's case, it is a noisy and crowded adventure whereas in Hopkirk's time it is an amusing and sometimes bewildering exercise in futility. The on-going boarder war between Pakistan and India has made the old line impossible to ride save for one very guarded weekly express train. After Hopkirk describes his impossible quest to ride the route described in Kim he goes onto outline the bloodshed that happened on this train line during the partition in August 1947.

Hopkirk gives a chapter for each major even in Kim, even if he is unable to find through research definitive answers to a location's whereabouts or history. In the chapters where his research draws a blank he pads the chapters with plot synopsis. In all fairness, he does warn early on that he had to force himself to just reiterate Kipling's book even though he was tempted out of his love for the book. As this book reads more like a personal question than a scholarly analysis these momentary lapses into plot summary are forgivable.

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Patrick Point rest stopVacation: Part 6: Patrick Point: 02/24/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

Our fun but chilly walk along Clam Beach left us needing a rest stop. Before heading into the redwoods proper, we stopped at the Patrick Point rest stop. The place reminded me of the tiny rest stop (Francis B. Mathews) we visited along route 299 on our trip home from Redding in 2005. It is not much more than a strip of parking spots, a couple picnic tables, a map kiosk and of course the well needed bathrooms. All of these amenities are pushed against the forest and mountainside at both locations, although more impressively at the Francis B. Mathews location.

The stop though small did have some gorgeous redwood trees, and one giant redwood stump that is now providing a perch for a number of other plants and moss varieties. The trees at this stop was Sean's first glimpse up close at just how big redwoods can get.

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BooksNinety Books: 02/24/07

Now that February is almost over, I decided it was time to run another report to see how I was doing on my twin goals of reading and releasing more books than I receive and of culling our collection of books we know we'll no longer reread. While we did really well on the culling, the BookCrossing meeting is still providing a large temptation to me and keeping my results from being as impressive as they would otherwise be.

So far I have released 90 books and most of these are from our culling efforts (around 70). The books I have received either from other members or as new registrations myself come to 49. This number includes books I found in our collection that I hadn't yet registered. If I take them out of the books in pile, the actual number of new books in my possession comes to 36, so we are still free of 54 books.

Our downstairs shelves are showing improvement with actual gaps between books and no double shelving or stacking of books. I need to take some books downstairs from our over crowded living room shelves to even things out. I also have a stack of a dozen books so far that are scheduled for release in one form or another in March.

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The Children's HourThe Children's Hour: 02/23/07

I tried reading The Children's Hour for a Bookcrossing bookring because it came so highly recommended and because the blurb on the back of the book sounded interesting: "...But when their sister Georgie, now somewhat frail and forgetful, comes to stay at Ottercombe, memories of their past start to revisit them. As a child, Georgie claimed to know all their secrets — secrets that she now wants to share..."

If there were any secrets worth sharing, I didn't last long enough in the book to find out what the secrets were. I made it to page 112 of 442 and each new page became more and more of a chore to read. I seem to be the only person who hasn't enjoyed this book but I am often a contrarian reader. Given the over powering domesticity to this book, I think this is the closest I've gotten to an "Aga Saga" and I hope it's my last.

I don't like stories where the characters do nothing but sit around and talk about their feelings and that was all the characters did in the quarter of the book that I read. I also don't particularly like weird sounding nicknames that aren't explained. Weird character names are harder to remember and are annoying. So having a character nicknamed "Nest" didn't help my souring view of The Children's Hour.

I did skip ahead to read the last three chapters, a trick I often do when I'm feeling doubtful about my interest in finishing a book. The last three chapters are just as schmaltzy and upbeat as the first three chapters are. In other words, there is no change and no sign of progress. The characters worry about stuff, reminisce about stuff, have secret stuff revealed (apparently) and have good stuff come about in a nice tidy way. Whoopee.

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Clam BeachVacation: Part 5: Clam Beach: 02/23/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

After our breakfast in Arcata we headed north again for a few miles, stopping for an early morning walk along Clam Beach. Since going to school at UCSB, this was my first morning beach walk and I loved every minute of it.

Clam Beach has one of the longest and flattest beaches I've seen in California and it reminded me of Daytona Beach if it had been plucked from Florida and dropped into northern California so that the palm trees were replaced with pine trees and the hotels were replaced by mountains.

As the rain was blowing eastward, we were faced with a cold wind. I wrapped Harriet's bald head up in my black cardigan sweater and she did her best to hide in the folds of the sling. Later as the wind abated briefly, she got interested in the beach and decided to take a look around, especially to watch Sean and Ian racing around on the sand.

As Clam Beach is so flat the thick sand seems to attract and hold "treasure" better than the rocker beaches that I'm used to. Clam Beach also allows dogs, cars and horses so there were many interesting tracks in the sand. I found an old and well chewed tennis ball and the remains of a sand dollar. I took photographs of both things against the sand as they were so pretty in their own special ways. Sean and I also wrote the word "sand" in the sand which I photographed.

We only stayed long enough to walk from our car to the edge of the water and back as it was so cold and windy. Had the weather been nicer or it been later in the day when the sun was higher we would probably have stayed longer. It really is one of the most beautiful beaches I've been to.

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My DayGood Grief: 02/22/07

I picked up a copy of Good Grief at the June 2006 BookCrossing meeting. I had some reservations about the book from the outset but I'm more willing to expand my horizons with BookCrossing books than with books I buy myself. Having now read the book I'm glad I took a chance with it but I found the story flawed in a number of ways.

In Good Grief a thirty-something woman finds herself newly widowed after only a few years of marriage. In that time she and her husband had tried unsuccessfully to have children until he had succumbed to cancer. In the course of the story she must come to terms with her new status as a widow and recreate her life as a single woman.

The first two thirds of Good Grief are written with a dark sense of humor that captures Sophie's shock, anger and disbelief. She focuses so much on the absence of her husband and the child they never managed to have together that she neglects her own life. She eats junk food and grows out of her clothes. She doesn't sleep well and has a nervous breakdown at work, ultimately losing her job.

Around the point where Sophie loses her job I started to lose interest in the book. Her grief seemed too angsty and her reactions too unrealistic. As so much of the narrative was focused on her husband it was hard to gauge Sophie as a character. She seemed to be only defined by her husband, a person she had only just married.

To redefine herself and restart her life she moves in with a friend in Oregon. Here we go from grieving widow who can't let go to single mother in an abusive relationship. Together of course the women rise above their problems and at last find happiness.

I wouldn't have minded the schmaltzy ending by itself but Ruth's daughter completely blew my suspension of disbelief. Winton describes the child as being 4-years-old but she has no dialogue, is struggling to feed herself Cheerios from a bowl and still rides around in a stroller. Yet this child isn't set up as a disabled character; she is just meant to be the stand-in for the child Sophie never had. Winton either doesn't have children or has forgotten what 4-year-olds are like. This child's unbelievability made me question all the other character choices and plot twists so that the neatly wrapped ending annoyed rather than pleased me.

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Clam BeachVacation: Part 4: Breakfast in Arcata: 02/22/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

Sunday morning we woke at a quarter to seven to the sound of Harriet giggling and raining splattering against our hotel room window. Once I had the light on to change Harriet's diaper, Sean was up too. As we were all up and ready to go by about seven-thirty we decided to hit the road and get breakfast en route to Oregon rather than try for breakfast either at the hotel or somewhere in downtown Eureka.

We drove a few miles in the rain to Arcata where we pulled off for gas. Sean and I looked for pastries in the mini-mart but we didn't find anything except a milk chug for Sean.

We hopped in the car and drove into down town Arcata. We found a local grocery store that also had a bakery. We parked just as the rain was letting up and got breakfast. I had a blue berry cheese danish, Ian had an orange scone and Sean had a croissant. We ate in our car with a west facing view of a gorgeous rainbow (one of many we saw that morning). It was the perfect start of our day!

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A rest stop just outside Willits,, CARain and Snow: 02/22/07

Since yesterday the sky has been threatening rain. We woke this morning to the sound of the rain finally falling. As it is a cold storm, the storm brought snow to the local mountains (closing roads on Mt. Diablo for instance).

On days like this I'm very happy to be working from home. I don't miss driving in the rain and worrying about accidents on the San Mateo bridge as I raced to work for the seven-thirty publish. It is much nicer to watch the rain fall outside my kitchen window while I can do my work without fighting traffic or bad weather.

Sean's school of course was kept inside today. Normally in the mornings the kids play outside before lessons start to burn off some excess energy. Today though they had to stay inside and do circle time.

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My DayMy Day: 02/21/07

During my recent wild release of books that we were culling from our collection I picked up a copy of My Day for Sean because it looked like the type of book Sean would like. He does like it and we've read it together a few times so far.

My Day is a fairly typical picture book with photographs of ordinary objects and some line illustrations as well. These pictures and photographs are grouped together by theme, in this case, something the boy on the cover does in the course of his day (brushing teeth, play time, music time, eat breakfast, etc.) Most of the illustrations make sense in the context that they are presented and over-all I'd rate the book highly.

There is just one illustration that bugs me. It's on the cover and on the last page (the bed time page). On the cover, the clock set at 3 o'clock makes sense. It is just one hour in the boy's day, sometime between sun-up and sun-down. On the bedtime page the clock illustration as it is repeated makes no sense. This boy appears to be five or six years-old. I don't know any child that age that goes to bed at 3 (either in the afternoon or in the morning).

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Vacation: Part 3: Eureka: 02/21/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

We stopped one more time en route to Eureka for gas, a diaper change and something to drink. It was also a chance for me to properly adjust the seat. The driver's seat was too far forward and the pedals didn't feel like they were where I expected them to be. Then we had a straight drive through dusk and early evening to Eureka.

Harriet cried around six as it was her usual bedtime and she wanted to know why we were still in the car. We finally got into Eureka and to our hotel (at the north end of Eureka) around six thirty. By seven we were in our room and a bell hop had brought up a roll away crib for Harriet. I should have taken photographs of our room but it completely slipped my mind.

There were two amenities that our room didn't have that I wished it had. The first is a safe to lock up our valuables and the second is a mini fridge so we could have kept the left over baby food Harriet didn't eat at one meal to use at her next meal. Ultimately though we made do without either of these amenities and had a comfortable stay.

Before going to bed we still needed dinner. We had thought about going to Denny's or perhaps doing room service but Denny's meant driving to the other end of town (and negotiating the unfamiliar one way streets in the dark and the rain) and room service sounded too messy. We decided instead to eat in the restaurant next to the lobby.

The restaurant is in the process of being remodeled and wasn't really set up for a tired family of four. We were stuck in the back at a booth next to the worst of the construction mess. By now Harriet was really hysterical. We got her fed (a jar of baby food and a bottle). There just wasn't room to comfortably breast feed her. Once Harriet was better settled we were able to better enjoy our meal. Sean had a grilled cheese sandwich and we had crab cakes (my first since my trip to New Orleans in 2001).

After dinner we were all exhausted. We decided to go to bed. Certainly the kids needed to go to sleep. I was worried that Harriet wouldn't sleep in her roll away crib but she took to it happily. We did bring her sleep positioner and her two favorite purple blankets and that helped her feel at home in her temporary bed. Harriet ended up going to sleep before Sean but both kids slept until a quarter to seven in the morning!

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HomeCrash: 02/21/07

Around eleven today while I was iChatting with Ian I heard sirens coming up our hill, followed by a loud crumpling noise. It sounded like a trash truck had taken out a window. Then I heard very close sirens, doing that quick "boop" they do when trying to get a person's attention. I even iChatted to Ian about the "strange police activity."

By eleven thirty or so Ian said he was coming home for lunch. Since work was quiet for me today we thought In N Out would be a nice lunch; I usually eat at home since my client is two hours ahead of me and often times they send work to me at my lunch time as they are coming back from lunch themselves.

Just when Ian should have gotten home, he called me on my cell phone to say he would have to park his car on one of the nearby side streets. Our driveway was barricaded by police and an ambulance. The crunch I had heard was a man on a stolen motorcycle wiping out on the gravel in our driveway and crashing into a truck parked on the street. The motorcycle shattered and the man somehow survived.

We ended up waiting until one for our trip to In N Out. It gave the CHP clean up crew time to pick up the pieces from the motorcycle and for me to take a quick shower. Lunch was well worth the wait!

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Ghost  DanceGhost Dance: 02/20/07

Ghost Dance is one of those books I've had for ages, still planning to read and still thinking of it as a "new" book even though it had been sitting on my shelf for three years. I'm glad I finally read it so I can clear it from my shelf and sent it onto another BookCrossing member but it wasn't as good as I had hoped.

The book has a number of interesting threads but they don't weave together into a coherent plot. The story starts promising with a priest who can cure those suffering from the Spanish flu with the laying of hands. Then there is the anthropologist who has broken up with his wife after many years of traveling around the world from one remote place to another. The reasons behind their break up is hinted at but never fully developed. The bulk of book is spent on the present day ghastly murders of people who own pieces of a dead woman's journal and finally there is the journal itself.

The plot gets hung up on the journal entries by Many Horses. There are entire chapters devoted to these journal entries that serve as filler between the action scenes of the present day murders by a man calling himself Charun. These entries break the pace of the mystery and really don't fit in the book; it is as if Sullivan didn't have quite enough plot for two books and decided to mash them together into one book instead.

The biggest disappointment of Ghost Dance is the resolution of the mystery of Father D'Angelo's death nor much explanation of how he could suddenly cure the deathly ill. His piece of the story is summed up with a couple of sentences tossed in at the end of book. It was his story that hooked me into the mystery and I felt cheated when his story wasn't picked up until the last pages of the book.

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A rest stop just outside Willits,, CAVacation: Part 2: Willits: 02/20/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

Just as the sun was setting (although with the thick forest, it was hard to judge whether we were at dusk or just in the shadows of the forest) we pulled into rest stop three miles out of Willits to a well needed stretch of the legs and a bathroom break. Ian and Sean had a chance to run around and look at the creek that runs at the edge of the stop between the parking area and highway 101.

While I took a few photographs and walked Harriet around in the sling, Ian and Sean tried to play some baseball. Sean hasn't had much practice with either hitting or pitching. He missed Ian's pitch and when he tried to throw the ball back to him the ball ended up going astray. It landed outside of the wood fence at the edge of the creek bank. Ian climbed over the fence and carefully reached to grab the ball. After that Ian and Sean decided they should call the game off for a larger park.

As we were at the halfway point in our drive northward, I took over driving for Ian. The weather also turned as we started into the mountains and as the sun set. Things turned first foggy and then drizzly. Fortunately the rain wouldn't arrive in full force until after we were in Eureka and tucked into our hotel beds.

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Sean puttingSunset Minigolf: 02/20/07

One of the things Sean really wanted to do on our trip was play minigolf. We didn't have the chance to play on our trip and Sean was asleep when we passed the one minigolf course in North Bay on our way home on Monday. We promised him that we would play minigolf with him after school if the weather held out. The minigolf course in Castro Valley stays open until 10 PM most nights.

The rain that threatened didn't arrive by sunset so we kept our promise. Ian, Harriet and I picked up Sean a half an hour early from school and took him golfing. Although it was cold and I had to bundle Harriet up to keep her head warm while she was in the sling we had a fun time.

Harriet cried a the first hole but I got the hang of putting one handed and she settled down. As the sun set she dozed off as it was her bed time. She woke up on the drive home and was soon giggling with Sean.

I wasn't sure if I could golf with Harriet in her sling but it ended up being easier than I though it would be. I ended up putting one handed so I could keep Harriet's head shielded from the wind. Although the putting was awkward, I did better than Ian did on a number of holes. We didn't keep score so I have no idea who won. We were there for an hour and got to watch the sun set as we played.

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Treasure of KhanTreasure of Khan: 02/19/07

Readers of this blog and those who know me personally will know I love Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt series. Treasure of Khan is his most recent addition and was cowritten by his son, also named Dirk. While I was a little hesitant about reading a father/son collaboration, the book didn't fail to entertain and was the perfect read during those days when I was suffering from a migraine and a nice reread during our recent trip to Eureka and points north.

The typical Dirk Pitt mystery has the following elements: a sunken treasure, a multinational mystery (earlier ones were usually cold war countries and now they are mostly international corporations), some other team of experts getting into trouble and ultimately needing rescuing by NUMA (usually Dirk and Al). What I like about these books is that the characters age and change over time. I prefer the older more mature Pitt to the younger and more arrogant one of the earlier books (although I do count Raise the Titanic! as one of my favorites).

In this book, the world is crippled by a sudden oil crisis. A series of natural disasters and accidents have taken large pieces of the oil supply out of production. Can an unknown oil company in Mongolia somehow be responsible? Of course! The fun is in finding out how.

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Owl Cafe, Cloverdale, CAVacation: Part 1: Owl Cafe: 02/19/07

Over this 3-day weekend we took our first vacation as a family of four. I've been posting photo montages of each place we stopped on my livejournal site but I plan to post a more in depth description of what we did here, one stop per day.

As this was a family vacation to de-stress we opted to have a leisurely start on Saturday morning. The first step in this was to avoid packing until Saturday morning. I'm usually a compulsive packer who has to get most everything packed the night before.

With Harriet getting us up early every morning anyway, we had plenty of time to get packed even with giving Sean time to watch his favorite Saturday morning cartoons. Ian and Sean helped pack by picking out the clothes they wanted to wear on the trip. It made the packing process fast and fun!

The first item on our agenda was the Golden Gate bridge. I can't recall if Sean has even been across it before and if he has been, he doesn't remember. It was certainly Harriet's first time. Before we could go across that bridge, though, we had to fight our way through the "maze" and get across the Bay Bridge.

Thankfully Ian was driving. He got us across the Bay Bridge and through San Francisco expertly. If I were driving, I'm sure we would have gotten lost. I normally have a good sense of direction but San Francisco makes me go stupid in that department.

By the time we finally got across the "Big Red Bridge" as Sean called it, we were almost ready for lunch. We decided to drive to almost the Sonoma county line. Ian had thought about lunch in Healdsburgh but with it being a 3-day weekend, the city was busy, parking looked bad and we didn't want to shark for a spot. So we headed on to Cloverdale.

Cloverdale ended up being the perfect place to stop. It has the idea Sean restaurant, the Owl Cafe. Outside the restaurant's sign is a huge neon owl and inside the place is decorated with numerous owl paintings, sculptures and knickknacks. The food is a little expensive for diner food but the service is friendly and the atmosphere fun. We liked the place so much we ended up stopping on our way home today.

485 S Cloverdale Blvd
Cloverdale, CA 95425

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Ghost TrainGhost Train: 02/16/07

Service began on the London Underground on January 10, 1863 and the subway has been inspiring stories ever since. Horror, especially in the form of demonic ghost stories is a genre of subway stories that fascinates me and the reason why I wanted to read Ghost Train.

Despite the blurb on the back of the book, very little of the story takes place on the Underground. Most of the story is told in dreams and flashbacks. The first two thirds of the novel is stuck in a cycle of Mark having a bad dream and then trying to get on the trains in the Underground only to freak out and go home. By about the third time Mark was having a nightmare I wanted to strangle the character myself.

These dreams are supposed to build a sense of terror and suspense but they fail to do either. The evil that is stalking Mark (or perhaps living inside of him) apparently has ties to Druidic beliefs (though this connection is presented weakly at best) and manifests itself as a purple cloud of pain. Ooh scary.

Near the end of the book, Mark's daughter is attacked by the demon and she blows it off. She can't be bothered by bad dreams. At that point I lost my last thread of interest in the book. Clearly the adults in the book (Mark isn't the only adult affected) are weak and gullible, if a child can blow off the demon's attack.

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Plum treePlum Tree: 02/16/07

Over the last week I've been watching the plum tree grow buds after having been leafless for the last three months. This morning I noticed that the plum tree has begun to flower.

The rain we were told to expect didn't arrive either yesterday or today. Instead the temperature was in the 70s and warm enough upstairs to warrant opening the glass door to let a breeze in through the screen.

Tomorrow morning we will be leaving for a long weekend in Eureka. While the weather here may sunny, rain is predicted for Eureka. We are making alternate indoor plans for our trip just in case it is too wet to see the redwoods.

I'm a little nervous about traveling with Harriet. It's her sleep schedule that I'm concerned with. I'm afraid she'll be too hopped up to sleep and Ian and I will end up taking turns keeping her quiet so that Sean can sleep. Hopefully I won't come home more tired than I am now!

Of course I worried about the same thing with Sean when we took him to Lassen 18 months ago and he was great. Hopefully Harriet will surprise us too.

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Little Tortoiseshell Cat BookLittle Tortoiseshell Cat Book: 02/15/07

As anyone who is close to me or who reads this site knows I have a calico (Caligula) and tend to stick with orange, black and white in my design choices for this site. For the eleven years that I've had Caligula I've been fascinated with books about or featuring calicos and torties.

A calico cat has white, orange and black patterns (usually a white stomach with the orange and black on the back, tail, head and legs). Calico comes from the prints against solid colors manufactured in Calcutta. Tortoiseshells don't have significant blocks of white and their mottling looks like the color and texture of a tortoise.

The book mistakenly says that some calicos and torties are sterile males. While there are rare calico or tortie patterned cats who appear to be male, they are more precisely chimeras. They have more than the usual paring of sex chromosomes (XXY or even more). As the coloring for black and orange is carried on the X chromosome only, it takes two X chromosomes to make a tortie. White isn't a sex related trait; it's more of an added bonus. For more information see: Cats Are Not Peas.

So that brings me to this slim volume that I read for a BookCrossing ring (originated in Britain). This book is more of a quick introduction to all things calico, including the history, art, and how various cat breeds display the tortie/calico coloration. Of all the sections, I enjoyed the breed sections most as that was the bit I knew the least about. Most books that cover specific cat breeds ignore or gloss over tortie coloration as a "freak" or "undesirable" result.

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Castro ValleyBusy and Long Day: 02/15/07

It's been a long day for me. Last night was one of those times that for whatever reason I could not get to sleep. Ian wasn't snoring all that loud nor twitching any more than normal but all of it seemed more annoying than usual.

At two-thirty I gave up and came upstairs to sleep on the couch (something I can thankfully do now that I'm no longer having sciatica). I'm not sure when I got to sleep but I did eventually fall asleep only to be woken up at six by Sean and Harriet. As I felt like I hadn't gotten any sleep I left Ian to give Harriet a bottle and slunk downstairs for an hour and fifteen minutes more sleep. During this time I did actually sleep and dream (although my dream involved pulling an all-nighter).

I thankfully managed to keep it together for work. On a normal day I would have left Ian to pick up Sean and I would have taken a bath to unwind and perhaps catch a cat-nap before having to put Harriet to bed and before dinner. Today though, Ian needed to do some coding and I had an errand to run to Castro Valley.

A Pokémon Memory game had been offered on Freecycle and I was given the email to come pick it up today. As Sean has been so enjoying playing the Memory game Linda gave him and since he so enjoys Pokémon I knew he'd love this game. I had promised to pick it up after work. I took Harriet along for the ride into Castro Valley as she loves to go on "adventures" after work.

Before picking up Sean from school, I returned home to get Ian. He was also feeling tired so we decided to take Sean out to dinner. So we all headed to Dublin for dinner. Harriet happily sat in a highchair, Sean sat next to me (the first time since Harriet was born), and Ian had a seat to himself. We had a lovely time. We have great kids!

Although I am still sleepy, I feel refreshed.

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Small GodsSmall Gods: 02/14/07

Terry Pratchett has written more than thirty-five Discworld books. Of the lot I've ready maybe a dozen. I read Colour of Magic the year it was first published and some how completely missed that the book had become a series. Even though I introduced Ian to Pratchett's books he has read significantly more of the series than I have.

I decided to read Small Gods after hearing it performed on Radio 4 and a copy came my way via BookCrossing. I'm glad I heard the audio version first because I found the jumps between scenes hard to follow at times. The lack of chapter breaks also made pacing myself more difficult (and is one of the reasons why I haven't read as many Pratchett books as Ian).

After having suffered through The Silver Chair, Small Gods was like an antidote to all the preachy rhetoric of the previous book. It was a nice parody of the extremes of religion set against the philosophy cum geekery. In the middle of all of this is a once great god reduced to the status of "small god" and trapped in the body of a tortoise. It is Om's view of the war (and the world) between Omnia and Ephebe and his conversations with Brutha that really make this book funny.

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Sean and his stickersValentine's Day: 02/14/07

Today Sean's school held a Valentine's day party for the kids and they took a day off from "doing work" as the school calls its lessons. Sean happily summed up his day with: "Guess what!? I didn't learn anything today!" Instead they exchanged cards and had fun. It was Sean's first Valentine's day party.

Last year at the time Ian and I were stuck in our one and only prenatal class for Harriet. It was a breakfast time two hour meeting to fill out paperwork and to go over all the stuff we as second time parents (as was everyone present) already knew. I remember desperately wishing for a bathroom break and a chance to eat something. Aw the joys of being pregnant!

This year we didn't do anything special for the day except to have a slice of pie a la mode and a cup of coffee at Bakers Square before picking up Sean from school. We took along Harriet (of course) and she happily noshed on bread stick crackers from her high chair.

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DeerslayerDeerslayer: 02/13/07

Back in December Ian and I had fun reading Mark Twain's infamous review of Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. Before Christmas when I had some time off from work we bought a copy to see if the book is as bad as the essay would imply. The short answer is yes and no. It was bad enough that I gave up on reading it seriously at about page 150, but did skim to the end

Twain cites an abuse of language, a lack of plot and impossible action scenes for his reason for hating the book. Yes; Cooper's use of language is sloppy but I've read worse. His action scenes (when there are any) are ridiculous (but no more so than Clive Cussler or Dan Brown at their worst). The plot though, that's where the book falls apart. The scenes jump for setting to setting and action scene to action scene without segue, explanation or motivation. While memorable scenes stuck with me I had a hard time following how they were all sewn together into a coherent story.

Another problem I had with the book was in the dialogue. As Twain notes in his review, no character has a consistent voice. Sometimes they are eloquent and sometimes they are speaking a backwoods dialect. There is no rhyme nor reason to how or when characters speak the way they do.

One of the things the characters spend a lot of time debating (as they are running from the Indians) are the various merits of the different races and the differences of men and women. These arguments seem to be set up to show Deerslayer (Natty Bumpo) as a progressive character compared to Hurry Harry (Henry March) but these scenes are excessive and get in the way of the real plot (the war with Indians). Then there is the domestic story of the man and his daughters who need protection in the middle of the hostilities. Ultimately the book ends with this plot ending poorly and it was the book's concentration on this rather dull plot that convinced me to stop reading.

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Successful BookCrossing: 02/13/07

Tonight was the monthly BookCrossing meeting and probably Sean's last chance to see Connor before he and his family move first back east and then to Puerto Rico. Sean and Connor were both thrilled to see each other and spent an hour sharing a table where they drew pictures, chattered and played. They were occasionally too loud and needed some scolding but all in all they were pretty good.

It was the first meeting in a couple of months where I was able to concentrate on the book talk and let Sean entertain himself. I brought a bag of 15 books to release and brought home 17 books so I didn't stick to my goal to bring home fewer books than I release at the meeting but I didn't go too over board either. One of the books I brought home will be going to Sean's school tomorrow and possibly a second one if I can confirm that it is a duplicate of a book we own.

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The Silver ChairThe Silver Chair: 02/12/07

Ian described The Silver Chair to me as the "book where the Narnia series jumped the shark" and I have to agree. It tries to capture the same sense of adventure and quest that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' have but it falls short in that task. The scenes feel forced, the tone preachy and oft-times patronizing and the dialogue wooden.

Then there is Aslan who reappears and gives a preview of his role in The Last Battle. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is a reluctant martyr. In this book he flaunts his omnipotency and makes thinly veiled threats of things to come to those who do not follow his "signs."

I realize that the Narnia books are Christian fantasy "to make them easily accessible to younger readers" but even as a child attending Sunday school I was put off by Aslan's threats and the narrator's sermons in these later books. Rereading this book now as an adult was a chore and save for a scene or two in the Deep Realm, I didn't enjoy the book.

Read the review at Reading Adventure.

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Harriet and a spoonWinter Rains: 02/12/07

Today has been one of weird events. It started just after breakfast with the power going on and off in tight succession twice and then finally staying off. Ian and Sean later passed an ambulance by Val's around the block from us and a PG&E truck trying to get through traffic to fix whatever had caused the outage.

Without power I can't stay connected to my client's site for very long due to the battery life of my laptop, nor can I connect any faster than 56k as I can't use the DSL connection. On days like this I have to phone work to warn my boss that he might have to take over for me if the power fails to come on before my battery fails. Fortunately today the outage only lasted about 45 minutes.

The other big event today was the weather. As Sean was leaving for school I tossed him his sweatshirt saying: "It won't rain until tonight but it will be cold." Boy was I wrong! It started to rain around lunchtime and by five o'clock we had some thunder and the rain was now sheeting.

On our way to pick up Sean we grabbed his rain jacket to give to him at school. He would have been soaked through his sweatshirt even with its hood. Harriet and I stayed in the car while Ian ran to get Sean.

The drive to school was scary. Some of the the streets on the border between Hayward, Fairview and Castro Valley were flooding in all the run off. It was probably due to poorly maintained storm drains or leaves in the gutter.

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The Australian SlanguageThe Australian Slanguage: 02/11/07

The Australian Slanguage is another bookring I signed up with fairly early after joining BookCrossing. It has been traveling around the world for the last three years and finally reached me in January. I wanted to read it to see just how much I'd picked up in my short stay as an exchange student in 1990. It seemed appropriate because the college I attended wanted to make me take an ESL course even though last I checked American and Australian are both dialects of English. In the end I didn't have to take the course (although I was willing to) but the administration decided it would be insulting (I thought it was funny) and put me in their Tasmania tourism class instead.

My brief experience with the Australian slanguage is that it is as regional as any other dialect of English. Northern Tasmanians seem to use more British slang and pronunciation than their counterparts in Hobart. Hobart was probably the place where I had the most difficulty making myself understood. The bush near Sydney came closest to the stereotypical Australian accent (with the really strong 'a' sound in most words and the added 'r' on the end of any word ending in 'a'). Of course for all I know our guides could have been laying it on thick for the amusement of us Americans.

The Australian slanguage tries to cover all the many nuances of the dialect, its accent, how it is often loathed as a low point the English language (I thought we had that covered here) and how various slang terms developed. Note to Australians and Brits: in the States, ass means arse; donkey means ass. We aren't being "polite" when we use the word ass.

There is just one major flaw with the book: it's typesetting. The damn font is near illegible. There's no white space. There's not enough differentiation between regular text and block quotes. Then there is the ugly use of all caps (and not even small caps) to draw attention to the words being discussed. The book is hard on the eyes. If ever this potentially interesting book is brought back into print, I hope the next publisher has the sense to do a better typesetting job on it.

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Harriet and a spoonHighchairs and Swings: 02/11/07

Today we went to Bakers Square for breakfast and Harriet managed to sit in a highchair for the entire meal. She only wanted to be held at the very end when the meal was wrapping up. She happily spent her time feeding herself sesame bread stick crackers. It was so nice to have her out of the sling for a meal at a restaurant!

Later in the afternoon when Ian wanted to head out to do some studying, Sean, Harriet and I walked to the park. The rain that had been promised today never materialized but the lower half of the park was still swampy from yesterday's rain so we stuck to the little kid play area. Fortunately at four Sean's still young enough to comfortably play on the littler stuff.

While we were there I gave Harriet her first swing ride. Of course Sean wanted to swing too and I did manage to get him into the little kid swing. Briefly I was pushing both kids. Harriet smiled and giggled a little but swinging wasn't the big thrilling adventure for her as it was for Sean at this age.

Mostly while we were there Harriet wanted to watch Sean play. Sean had fun running along the edges of walls, jumping off things and throwing sticks into the big puddles. Some of the other kids were jumping into the puddles from the wall separating the two play areas but Sean agreed with me that the puddles would be both wet and cold and he didn't want to ruin his new shoes. He just watched the other kids jump into the puddles and get soaked from head to toe.

Just before we headed home Harriet started to get a little cranky so I tucked her into her sling with her head in and her feet out. She settled down and was quickly asleep.

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Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of DreamsA Pocketful of Dreams: 02/10/07

A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years covers the first half of Bing Crosby's life but so far there is no evidence that there will be a second volume to cover the remainder of his life. Regardless is worth reading even though it only covers half of the crooner's life. My favorite example of a biography written about a celebrity is The Real Mary Tyler Moore by Chris Bryers.

The book starts of slow as so many biographies do with unnecessarily details about Crosby's family background. I would have been happiest if the book had started the birth of Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby in Tacoma Washington. Yes, it's interesting that he had some sea captain relatives but I really didn't get into the book until he left Washington for California. No, that's not quite correct. The book gets interesting around the time that he takes on the nickname "Bing."

The best part of the book though is all the time spent on the business of music, radio and film, three industries that Bing was a star of. I especially liked the chapters about the Brunswick and Decca labels and the early performances on fledgling CBS radio. The CBS section made a nice follow up to CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye by Robert Metz.

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Harriet reads her cardValentine's Day Comes Early: 02/10/07

Sean and Harriet received Valentine's day cards from my parents today. I opened Harriet's for her and put it down for her on her high chair table and she gave the card a big smile. The card has a pink and purple pussy cat on it so she was very happy.

Sean's card had a cute frog and a silly joke. Inside Mom had put some heart stamps. Sean loves stamps and will be putting them to good use soon, I'm sure.

As it has been pouring rain all day we hunkered at home. Sean helped me mop the floor while Harriet played with toys in her bouncy seat. We also did laundry and a some other chores.

But for the most part we were lazy. Today was the first day in three that I've been without a migraine. I ended up last night at three in the morning giving up and taking one of the Motrin I had left over from Harriet's birth. I spent the rest of the night upstairs asleep on the couch (for the second night in a row). After nursing Harriet first thing this morning I went back to bed for an hour and a half of proper sleep.

Once the rain started, Ian got a sinus headache. So just as I was coming out of the worst migraine pain I've had in seven years, Ian was feeling his sinuses pounding away. Thankfully by dinner we were both in our right minds.

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Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas: 02/09/07

It seems appropriate to be writing my review of this book while not quite in my right mind. I can't blame my state of mind on any of the drugs mentioned in the book; mine is just from a migraine. I've hallucinated twice, once when my mother gave me Dramamine in case I'd get sea sick on a whale watching trip (I've never gotten sea sick) and once when on Vicadin after Sean was born (I immediately stopped taking it after that). I've never gotten drunk to the point of losing control of myself or needing to vomit (I don't like how alcohol makes my head feel) and I've tried any other drugs. Despite being the completely wrong demographic for this book, I enjoyed it!

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reminds me most of Catcher in the Rye in that both are stream of consciousness adolescent rants fueled by drugs and alcohol. I did most of my reading of Fear and Loathing while Ian played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the video game compliments the book well. The only problem: I ended up picturing Thompson and his lawyer like the main character and his lawyer in the game.

My favorite parts of the book was the drive to Las Vegas and the bar scene in Circus-Circus. I loved the description of the scared hitchhiker who was unfortunate enough to get picked up by two guys tripping on just about everything while driving at break-neck speed to Vegas. Having been to Circus-Circus, I laughed at his description of the circus antics happening overhead of the gamblers and drinkers. I don't know what possessed anyone to build a place that looks like a demented version of a childhood fantasy and then turn it into a casino.

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Bag of booksAnother bag of books: 02/09/07

Yesterday after work Ian, Harriet and I released another bag of our old books at the Starbucks in Dublin. Happily our recent contribution to the shelf there hasn't completely overwhelmed the shelves. Some of the books from the fifth were already gone. Yesterday we delivered another twenty-two books. Most of them where science fiction or fantasy.

While we were there we met up with a woman who joined us on the comfy couch and flirted with Harriet. She has a 3 year old and is in the process of adopting a baby girl and so was fascinated with Harriet. Harriet was equally fascinated with her and spent a good ten minutes or so smiling and cooing.

At home our shelves are starting to show the benefits of the culling, especially downstairs. Now I just need to move some books downstairs to fill the empty spots and make our upstairs shelves look a little less cluttered. Among the books that Ian pegged for release were some that I bought before we met but I haven't read yet. I've ear marked them for immediate reading so I'll be reading a lot of old McCaffrey and Pournelle books before I release them.

February's traffic of books in vs books out is looking pretty good. So far I've gotten rid of 84 books and I've taken in 20. Of those 20, many are actually books that were part of the recent release but I hadn't actually registered them via BookCrossing until I released them. With the way I've set up my database, these newly registered books count in my "books in" column for February.

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Weird Stories from Real LifeWeird Stories from Real Life: 02/08/07

Weird Stories from Real Life was one of the first books I received via BookCrossing that wasn't a ring or a ray. As it is such a thin book I remember thinking I would read it quickly and release it but somehow that that book sat on myself for four years. While working on my Book Traffic Control database I realized just how long I'd have this book I'd been meaning to read in an afternoon and finally got it read.

Each story is a paranormal event and all of the accounts are more than a hundred years old. The stories are written in a way reminiscent of the Ripley's Believe it Or Not books but are less convincing. Over all the book was an easy read but a rather bland one.

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Robin's NestMushrooms: 02/08/07

Sometime over the course of last year I seem to have developed an intolerance to mushrooms. So far the ones that bother the most are the Portabellas. I've spent an agonizing twelve hours or so feeling very sorry for myself and trying to sleep it off on the couch.

Now within minutes of eating mushrooms I'll get terrible stomach cramps, gas and back pain. Because of all this I ended up going to bed at eight before finishing my blog posts for February 8th. Later I moved upstairs to sleep the rest of the night on the couch.

As a kid sometimes mushrooms would bother me, specially sauteed mushrooms. I didn't think much of it as the tummy trouble then was pretty light and we so rarely ate sauteed anything that the problem didn't come up much.

It was only after Harriet was born and we went back to making our own spaghetti sauces from scratch that I started to notice the problem. Of course at first I thought it was just the usual post C-section intestinal weirdness but more recent meals where the main ingredient has been mushrooms and the symptoms have been worse than just after Harriet, I know the problem is the mushrooms.

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The Sea-WolfThe Sea-Wolf: 02/07/07

A young man of means becomes a castaway during foggy journey ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco. He is then the unwilling new cabin boy of the Sea-Wolf only to later be castaway again with a young woman and his demented but dying captain. That's the gist of The Sea-Wolf and the set up is so preposterous that I had trouble believing the story or even enjoying it. The circumstances of Humphrey Van Weyden's conscription on The Ghost were forced to the point of farce and yet The Sea-Wolf tries to be a serious examination of the human condition.

I'm not against reading stories of pampered individuals learning how hard life can be but I do require less strain on my suspension of disbelief. The story would have been so much more interesting if "Hump" had joined the crew of his own free will. The crashing ferries made for good drama but it was completely unbelievable that the ship wouldn't immediately put him to shore. Had they put him to shore and had to do repairs from the storm or even had some well needed R&R or perhaps gone to the docks to recruit new hands then "Hump" could have done some soul searching and decided to leave his comfortable life behind for a life at sea. As the book is, Hump's quick change in character from scared land lover to loyal deckhand makes no sense.

Clearly bored with his main character, London switches at about the third or forth chapter from concentrating on "Hump" to fleshing out Wolf Larsen. The captain is an uneducated book loving man suffering from frequent headaches and fits of rage. He seems to be the only character in the entire book who has more than one dimension. Sadly the others are only there for Wolf to rage against and for Hump to compare himself to.

Then there is Maud, the female castaway who comes out of the blue and makes no sense given the original premise of the book. She sort of drops in on the plot like Wendy Darling does to the pirates and like her younger counterpart ends up being like a long lost mother to the ailing sea-wolf.

As a Bay Area resident only minutes away from Jack London Square, I should be proud of this area's native son who had a successful career as a writer of 50 books. He made quite an impression on both San Francisco and Oakland and the two cities like to squabble over ownership of his memory but frankly, I don't like his books.

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Robin's NestMagnum PI: 02/07/07

When the WB and UPN networks merged into the CW, our old WB challenge reverted back to being an independent station. To fill air time, they've been showing old television shows, including a favorite of mine, Magnum P.I.

Until this summer I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy the series. Now once a day I get an hour in paradise watching Magnum solve cases, trick his friends into helping even though he never has the "gas money" he owes T.C. or the money for his tab that he owes Rick. Then there is Higgins the majordomo / Robin Masters who has more secrets than all of Magnum's cases combined. Throw in the beautiful location work on Oahu (and surrounding islands), the concession that magic can and does exist when needed and the post Viet Nam tensions and there is a variety of episodes. While I don't love every single episode made I have been enjoying watching them all in rerun (and season one on DVD).

When I was a child I had never been to Hawaii so all of the places seemed like far away magical places. Now that I've been twice (though only once to Oahu), I know enough about the state to recognize locations. With the help of Google maps I've been having fun piecing together the popular locations that were frequented in the series. I even (with help of a fan site) spotted the place used for Robin's Nest. While the place is still there, from what I've read it's sadly not in good repair.

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Twelve CasarsTwelve Caesars: 02/06/07

Back in 2005 I learned of The Twelve Caesars on Radio 4. It was part of "A Good Read" or some similar program. Anyway, I was intrigued by the sound of this book that has so influenced writers ever since it was published nearly two thousand years ago. I was not disappointed by the book and managed to read it in a course of an afternoon!

Suetonius's history of the early Roman empire covers Julius Caesar and the eleven emperors who followed: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. Each chapter is a combination of political critique, straight history and best of all a scandal sheet. The combination paints a perfect picture of both how modern Rome was and how little we've changed over the millennia.

Each chapter is only about 40 pages and the version I read didn't bloat the text with a bunch of unnecessary annotations. It was nice to read Seutonius's history (translated, of course) without interruption from overly helpful editors. It's such a rare thing now to be able to read a classic without the editor or translator breaking in with notes on things that don't need annotation (like definition of words or a quick who's who for some mentioned historical figure).

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Sarah, Sean and HarrietCulling Our Collection: 02/06/07

Over the weekend Ian and I had a talk about how out of control our book collection has gotten. Our current home is probably not our final home. We have one or two moves ahead of us (depending on Ian's post Berkeley career choices take us) and the books are always the hardest part of the move. They take forever to pack, take forever to unpack and we never have enough space for all of them. With Sean now collecting books and I'm assuming Harriet will be starting her collection soon, we have to get things under control.

Ian and I have books that we once enjoyed but our tastes in reading have matured over the years. We have discovered better authors and different genres. So books that we haven't read in a long time and don't see ourselves rereading any time soon we will wild release through BookCrossing.

Now is an especially good time to start this cull because of my new "BookCrossing Traffic Control" database. It has really helped to spot trends in book accumulation and to inspire us to get books out the door. Another motivator is the working from home. We're both so close to my favorite wild release spot that it's easy after work to get there before we have to pick up Sean.

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Mr. SneezeMr. Sneeze: 02/05/07

Blame global warming on Mr. Sneeze. In his search for a sneeze free life, Mr. Sneeze heads south for warmer climes and ends up brining the warm weather back north with him to Coldland.

Mr. Sneeze is the first of the Mr. Men books I've read that is in a specific country other than being presumably in miniature villages somewhere in Britain. In this case, the country is named and the way it is described it must be up in the arctic circle like Greenland. With the literal approach to story telling in the Mr. Men books, it would be out of place to set Mr. Sneeze in an icy country ironically named Greenland. Therefore he lives in Coldland.

The artwork for the snowbound sunless city of Shivertown and the snowy hills on the outskirts are a nice change from the usual Hargreaves's garish colors. Unfortunately the story doesn't end with Mr. Sneeze either finding a comfortable place to live south of his home or learning to live with the cold (like putting on warmer clothing). Instead it goes for the "just change the environment" solution without any thought of the consequences. The story ends before there's time for any negative repercussions (flooding in Wobbletown perhaps?) and thus falls flat.

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Five Months Old: 02/05/07

It's hard to believe but Harriet is now five months old. She's such a part of our lives now that it's also hard to believe that she hasn't always been here. She can also turn my brain to mush on those day when she just wants to cry (especially when she's both over tired and teething).

Her current goal in life seems to be learning how to sit unsupported. She figures if she can sit unsupported she can get better access to fascinating things like the cat, the couch (she likes the texture), books, and toys. When she's at her best she can manage to sit up for about ten minutes without help but as soon as she gets distracted she falls over.

Meanwhile she and Sean are fast becoming friends. Sean often compliments her with "I love you little baby" or through me with "I love your little baby, Mama."

Harriet loves routine (far more than Sean did at this age). Her day begins around seven when she is changed out of her night clothes and brought up stairs to nurse. Then she's put in her highchair while I'm doing my morning run of work. After my morning publish is complete and while Ian is making breakfast, Harriet eats rice cereal mixed with something (usually a fruit puree). She then finishes up breakfast with either a bottle or more nursing depending on my work schedule.

The rest of the day until four o'clock is pretty flexible and depends on the demands of work but sometime around noon Harriet will be back in her high chair eating a puree of something. Today for lunch she had a puree of last night's stew. Unlike her brother, she seems to like the taste of tomatoes.

Then at four it's time to leave the house for a walk or to run errands. By five thirty we're at Sean's school to pick him up. Then it's home for bath time. By six she's in her jammies and having one last breast feed before going to bed.

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The White Sea HorseThe White Sea Horse: 02/04/07

I picked up and old and battered copy of The White Sea Horse at the Starbucks in Dublin. They maintain a bookshelf there which is a combination of discards from the Dublin library and wild releases by local BookCrossing members. The cover art and its length (under 100 pages) are what caught my attention. The man on the cover reminded me of John Wayne and I could just hear him in my head: "Wahll pilgrum, this here is a sea hahrse."

Obviously the book doesn't have a John Wayne character in it nor is it a Western. It's British children's story, one of those "small town along the coast is visited by magical sea creatures" type stories. In this case, the creature is a "sea horse" or like the unicorns in Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, an equine manifestation of the ocean's waves. Of course in The Last Unicorn the unicorns were turned into waves and here the wave is turned into a horse.

The sea horse apparently can bring luck to anyone who touches it. The thought of luck turns otherwise sensible people in to greedy and thoughtless ones. Rather than finding itself new blessed, this sea side town finds itself in a whole heap of trouble.

The story relies on the sort of bizarre cause and effect logic that young children use and since the two protagonists are young children (probably around the age of six or seven) it makes sense. As it is such a short book these strange leaps in logic work well and add up to a delightful read that takes about an hour from start to finish.

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Harriet on the floorSean the Big Boy: 02/04/07

Sean woke us up at seven fifteen this morning. The first thing I noticed was that he was dressed. The second thing I noticed was that Harriet was crying. It's normal for Sean to be up by seven and it's normal for Harriet to be crying as she doesn't usually wake up to nurse in the middle of the night. It is not normal for Sean to be out of his pajamas so early.

Sean explained that he'd had an accident. Rather than cry about it, he got up and changed into day clothes. He then took things a step further and put his wet pajamas into the washing machine for us to wash. Did you hear me singing for joy at having a big boy! Sean turned a poor start of his morning into a good start of the morning for the rest of us.

He is also volunteering more with helping with Harriet. As he's only four and a half, I'm not asking him to do much but he can help out with holding Harriet's bottle when she's in the high chair and with keeping her entertained if she's in her bouncy chair and I'm busy doing something where I can't either hold her or sling her. He's also great in the car, keeping her happy and keeping an eye on her for us. When she needs help he lets us know so that we can pull off the road quicker.

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Oath of FealtyOath of Fealty: 02/03/07

In the first chapter of Oath of Fealty, one of the characters makes an off-handed reference to Uncle Tom's Cabin and from that point on I couldn't help but compare the two books. Both books share similar flaws in the strengths of their stories as they sacrifice political agenda for narrative.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was written with an urgency and is a blatant call to end slavery. Oath of Fealty's message while politically motivated isn't as important or significant and therefore the book fails both in being an interesting story and in inspiring action on the part of the reader.

The only truly interesting piece of the book is its set-up. Imagine a city with a population around 250,000 jammed into a massive skyscraper that serves as a controlled environment where the citizens willingly sacrifice privacy for safety. The city (or arcology) is called Todos Santos and it's somehow located in the San Fernando Valley. What happened to the cities all ready there? By choosing to set the story in such a crowded area it is hard to believe that such a huge building could be built (it's also the same major flaw of The Truman Show).

Like Stowe's story of Eliza and Tom the story unfolds as a comparison of free life and slave life (or life off and on the plantation). Niven and Pournelle need a big chaotic city to compare to their controlled environment. Unfortunately there are so many flaws in the idea that a building of such a size could be built near a well established urban area that the story flounders. So much of the book is devoted to justifying their choice of location for this social commentary that the actual story is neglected.

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Steps: 7000


Harriet on the floorBaby Gate: 02/03/07

Today started off great. Sean got up at seven to watch cartoons with Ian but Harriet slept until eight, letting me sleep for an extra hour! After a lovely breakfast of waffles and tea we were ready to run those errands we had meant to run last Saturday.

We headed over to Dublin to the Toys R Us and found a baby gate for our stairs. Sean also found some Pokémon toys and since he's been such a good sport about being a big brother and the toys were less than $10 we let him get them.

We stopped for lunch at Carrow's. Sean had a grilled cheese sandwich, Ian had a tuna melt and I had a Cobb salad. Harriet mostly slept through the meal except for a time when she was nursing.

The one thing we forgot to do was get Valentines for Sean. His school is having a party on the 14th (Sean's first Valentine's day party) and we have to get 19 cards. I want Sean to help pick them out because he'll be the one giving them. Tomorrow I'll probably take him out to get the cards. Or we'll all do it while going grocery shopping.

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Arm in ArmArm in Arm: 02/02/07

If I were to make a list of the books I've read more times than I can count, Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip would be near the top. This slim book of art and poetry was one of those books I would try to check out from the library every time I went. I'm surprised I didn't end up being given a copy. In fact, I ended up buying the library's copy many years later when it had been read to the point of falling apart! I later released that copy via BookCrossing and replaced it with another one in better condition.

Happily Arm in Arm has come back in print although the cover art has changed to a different collage of drawings from the book. I suspect that a number of people in my generation wanted a copy to share with their children.

The subtitle for the book explains what makes it so charming: "A COLLECTION OF CONNECTIONS, ENDLESS TALES, REITERATIONS, AND OTHER ECHOLALIA." Each poem and drawing is like Ouroboros, wrapping in on itself and often times stopping where it started. Then there are the silly jokes both written and drawn that pepper the pages.

I really can't do justice to this book's charm and humor without scanning and publishing the entire thing online. So just go get yourself a copy to enjoy!

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Harriet in her slingWhy I Love Slings: 02/02/07

There are some days that Harriet wants to be held constantly. Today was one of the those days but I really needed my hands free to do things (like work!) but I didn't want to listen to her cry herself hoarse. The sound of my children crying is one of those sounds that can instantly turn my brain to mush. So on days when I need my sanity and Harriet needs extra snuggle time, I can put her in her sling while at home.

The sling instantly soothes her. She'll stop crying as soon as she is put in it. As today she seemed to be over-tired, I put her in lying down position and she instantly started napping. Later she woke up and was thirsty. I can either breast feed her from her sling or give her a bottle to hold. Today I opted for the bottle which she held and drank while I worked.

When we go out Harriet rides in her sling. It's so much easier to carry her in it than to either carry her in an infant carrier (those things never made much sense to me) or to push her in a bulky stroller. She is up high and can see the world (if she's facing forward). Or she can nap (either facing me or lying down in the sling). All the while she is close to me and out of people's way. She's also not going to be snatched away from me as she is physically tied to me.

Sean liked the sling too as a baby and it's his old sling that Harriet is using but Harriet seems to like the sling even more than he did. I think part of it is my own comfort and confidence while using it that helps. As I have a lot of fabric and a new sewing machine, I plan to make my own slings to get one that will grow a little better with Harriet as she grows.

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Steps: 5000


MadelineMadeline: 02/01/07

Madeline's author, Ludwig Bemelmans was quite a character. He came to the United States after shooting a head waiter at his uncle's restaurant. He had tried and failed in the States as a waiter and served in the army. It wasn't until after the army that he settled into a career as an illustrator and author. The Madeline series takes its name from Bemelmans's wife but the main character's antics were styled on their daughter.

Madeline is one of those books that has been in print for so long that everyone seems to know the story even without necessarily having read it. When I was pregnant with Sean, Ian and I saw the 1998 film version of Madeline. While watching (and enjoying) the film we realized that we couldn't remember the story. Ian went out and bought a copy for Sean.

The story is told through a simple rhyme taken a few words at a time across pages. The bulk of the tale though is in the illustrations as Madeline and her classmates walk in their "two straight lines" before many famous Parisian sites.

Each page seems too simple but there is no line nor color nor word wasted. Some pages are drawn in black and white lines on a bright yellow background. Other times the drawings border on Impressionism and take a full pallet. So if you read the book, read it once at normal speed to enjoy the words. Then read it again at a slower pace to enjoy the artwork.

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LassenEureka! 02/01/07

Ian pointed out correctly that it's been more than a year and a half since our last real vacation. The last time we went anywhere (except for visiting relatives) was in July 2005 when we went to Lassen. We had planned to go somewhere last summer but that was before Harriet. There was no way I was up to traveling while heavily pregnant with her.

When we went to Lassen we drove home via Eureka. Ian decided this time we should go to Eureka to see something different. He has made reservations at the Red Lion and of course requested a roll away crib for Harriet. We plan to take Sean and Harriet to see the redwoods. We might even drive the couple hours north (weather permitting) to take the kids into Oregon just to say we did.

We are going the weekend of Presidents day and I will take that Monday off work. Ian and Sean have that time off anyway. It will be fun to get away even if for a couple of days. The hotel offers free internet access but I'll probably leave my computer at home and then just make updates when we get home on Monday night. I will of course take photographs.

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Steps: 4000